Black Hats and Sock Puppets

In my last blog post I talked about the ethics of hacking and how it can be used as a tool for enacting social change and revealing injustice but as Harvey Dent would say “There are two sides to every coin” and so today I would like to talk about the darker side of hacking.  Off course with most things there are going to be people who use hacking for good and those that use it for evil. ‘Black Hat’ hackers are those that breach security systems for either malicious intent or self-gain. These are cyber criminals that program viruses, Trojans and botnets so they can access our personal data and scam us out of our money, steal our identities or tarnish our names. Think about the I Cloud hacking scandal also known as ‘The Fappening’, where over 500 private images of naked female celebrities were released onto the Internet through the image forum 4chan. These images were originally sent to partners, lovers ect in confidence and were not meant to be displayed for the public to see. The hacker responsible, Ryan Collins, used a phishing scheme (sending fake Apple messages) to obtain usernames and passwords from the victims and then illegally accessed their accounts simply because he could. What this meant for the celebrities involved was public humiliation and slut shaming which is not something any one should have to go through and not something high profile actresses, models and singers want jeopardising their careers.

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The thing most concerning here is that the reason it is so easy for hackers like Ryan Collins to do this is because we choose keep our online operations almost entirely inside walled gardens; within these gardens the cost of entry is our privacy. When we use things like IPhones, Gmail, Facebook and Twitter we give companies the right to store our data and we even share it publically in the form of profiles, statuses, check in and selfies. Everything we do runs through a centralised system where it monitored, recorded and filed under our name. While these companies may not intend to use this data maliciously, claiming it is merely for tailoring advertising campaigns and keeping track of trends, their centralisation is their weakness because it puts everything into one convenient place. All a hacker needs is a singular password to gain astonishing amounts of detailed private data. Good hackers can often figure out your password simply by looking at the information you freely divulge on your account, let alone using malware programs to spy without your knowing.

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Black Hat hackers have no code of ethics they do what they want at the expense of others but coming back to the whole ethical debate I had about hacking last week, I would like to discuss an instance where the hackers believed their actions to be righteous but to others may be seen as a gross violation of privacy. I’m sure you all remember the Ashley Maddison hacking scandal. In case you don’t Ashley Madison is a website owned by Avid Life Media for people seeking to cheat on their spouses. A hacker group called Impact Team hacked the site and instructed Avid Life Media to take Ashley Madison offline or else they would release all customer records, including profiles, sexual fantasies, credit card transactions, real names, addresses and emails. ALM, took no action and the hackers followed through. The leaked files were nearly 10 gigabytes in size and publicly revealed account details for the 32 million users.

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While the perpetrators may see themselves as cowboys fighting for the sanctity of marriage and while maybe some of the people on that list were total scumbags, who are we to pass judgment on the acts of others in private? We don’t know what their relationships were like or what they may have been going through in moments of weakness and not to mention there would have been plenty of people on that site who only thought about cheating but never actually went through with it. I certainly do not condone the actions of the people on that site but it does make me question when did we decide that it is ok to ridicule people and take away their basic right to privacy because of the mistakes they have made and do we believe this was the optimal way for spouses and families to find out the truth? How many relationships were ended that might have been worked on given the time? How many friends and work places found out that in all honesty didn’t need to know? Ashley Madison’s clientele may have been in the wrong but illegally revealing that to the public didn’t make it right and in fact it lead to major consequences such as subsequent suicides. I have used this example because it highlights the idea that ethics are entirely circumstantial and lie within the eye of the beholder. Team Impact didn’t think what they did was wrong because they believed the site users to be the guilty party befitting punishment. Others might see Team Impact themselves as the guilty party having engaged in malicious hacker activity.

The last thing I would like to discuss today is when hackers use their skills not to spy on individuals but to influence them and who are the ones doing this…our governments off course. ‘Sock Puppeting’ is the act of creating a fake online identity used for purposes of deception. This technique can be used to sway public opinion by making it seem like more people either support or reject a cause, person or thing. It is an illegal practice that is sometimes used by marketers to make a brand seem more popular or by individuals on social media to make themselves look good.  In 2011, activists claiming to belong to Anonymous hacked private intelligence contractor HB Gary. What they found was a treasure trove documents that proved the US military had ordered a persona management software called ‘Metal Gear’. This software would allow, per installation,  fifty people to control up to 500 fake Twitter accounts, all of which would  be complete with background, history, supporting details and cyber presences that are technically, culturally, and geographically consistent. In 2013 in was also it was revealed that the South Korean National Intelligence Service had pumped out 1.2 million fake tweets in a bid to swing an election toward their preferred presidential candidate. To me this type of hacking is the darkest form imaginable as it attempts to subvert public discourse through the mass slandering of anyone who is deemed a threat to the agenda. It is literally a way of subduing free thought and implementing control by way of manipulation. It is the modern day variant of old fashioned propaganda.

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Gamified Marketing In Under 10 Minutes

This is a video I made for my DIGC202 Assignment. It aims to answer the questions;

What is Gamification?

How can it be used in marketing?

What does effective gamification require and how does it work? AKA the science behind motivation.

Why should business be using gamification?

What are its positive effects on Customer Relationship Management?

And finally what are some examples of successful implementation?

 

Coming from a marketing background I noticed that in almost all of my textbooks there would be a little section about gamification and how it has great potential for increasing customer engagement but it was always touched on upon so briefly and never really explained how to do it or why it was so effective.

I am a person who has played games all my life and if there is one thing I know it is they have the capability to make me become so caught up in them that I don’t leave the bedroom for days. So I set out to learn everything I could about gamification in the field of marketing and what I found was that most of the information out there was about gamification for education and for motivating employees. This was very surprising to me since there were so many news reports about its growth as an industry.

The only logical next step here was to make my own information source that educated people on gamification and thoroughly explained it within the context of marketing. I wanted to make something visually tangible, informative, digestible and easily shared. Basically I hoped to answer the all the questions I had about the topic and put this into a platform that catered to gap in the information market. My hope is that this could be used as an educational tool for other students, who are looking for a quick break down of Gamification in marketing with relevant examples.

So here is one of the working products…..

Controlled Convenience or Chaotic Freedom?

Steve Jobs was responsible for revolutionising the computer age. When Apple released the Macintosh in 1984 it was the first time consumers were given a user-friendly means of interacting with a computer. The Macintosh introduced the first graphical user interface and was the first mass-market computer to be networkable. But while Apple brought us into the personal computer era their business model has practically reversed and seems hell bent on taking us out of it.

Apple products such as the IPhone have stopped being computing devices and have become simplistic information applications. They are incapable (by design) of operating anything outside of their designated software and they prevent users from accessing any internal elements; creating this shell of a computer that runs entirely off of face level applications. All content and the way you can interact with that content is controlled. You don’t own applications only pay to use them, you cannot change anything, install anything, transfer content and all the apps you can download have come from a centralised network that have gone through an intensive approval process.

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“It was easy to use, elegant and cool – and had lots of applications right out of the box… but the company quietly dropped a fundamental feature, one signalled by the dropping of ‘Computer’ from Apple Computer’s name” (Johnathan Zittrain).

“The fundamental difference between a PC and an Information Application is that a PC can run code from anywhere while Information Appliances remain tethered to makers desires, offering a more consistent and focused user experience at the expense of flexibility and innovation” (Jonathan Zittrain again).

While your phone not being a computer isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Steve Jobs himself proclaimed “You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore”. It is important to keep in mind though that the mobile phone has actually replaced the desktop as the primary mode of access to the internet. For millions of people, particularly those in developing nations their phone is their computer.

The Alliance of Open Handsets offer the polar opposite to Apple with their free Android operating system that can run on any device, can be completely rooted or moded and grants users access to both an official app store and unofficial ones. Plus you are allowed to upload your own aps. Originally Apple dominated the smart phone market but Android has now captured 85% of it, just going to show that a long tail of many small units will inevitably always out preform a lesser number of large ones.

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When Google first announced the alliance and the concept of Android, Steve predicted that the fragmented nature and uncontrollability of the idea would be its demise “I think it hurts them more than it helps, it is just going to divide them”.  While he was right about the division he was wrong about it being a negative. Eric Raymond believes networked systems always beat hierarchical ones because you can accomplish more and faster. He compares Cathedrals to Bazaars noting that if you release content early and often problems are resolved quickly by the sheer many. “Given enough eyes all bugs are shallow”. While Apples system of having a selected few make something perfect before release makes the task slow and monumental.

But in the end it all boils down to personal preference, Apples system ensures you are only buying something that has been carefully designed to ensure everything runs smoothly and easily whereas the Android system gives you everything good or bad; you have the power the chose and therefore the responsibility. It is just a question of if you want controlled convenience or chaotic freedom.

Post Modern Cyberpunk

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I have spent the last few weeks looking into the end of the cyberpunk genre and examining modern texts to find any evidence of cyberpunk exiting today. This week I began researching what scholars have said about the post- cyberpunk era. I wanted to discover what themes, aesthetics and other key differences set the post- cyberpunk era apart from traditional (authentic) cyberpunk. What I found is that most scholars come to agree that a key point of differentiation is the concept of hope and positivity.

Lawrence Person argues that post- cyberpunk works use the same immersive world-building techniques as classic cyberpunk but features different characters, settings, and, most importantly, make fundamentally different assumptions about the future.

“Far from being alienated loners, post-cyberpunk characters are frequently integral members of society”… “They live in futures that are not necessarily dystopic but their everyday lives are still impacted by rapid technological change and an omnipresent computerized infrastructure”.

I thought about this with relevance to some of the texts I have been looking at and for most of them this statement rings true. I thought about movies like Transcendence, Ex Machina and Gamer where, as Lawrence has pointed out, the characters all deal with significant issues to do with cyber culture and new cyber technologies, but they do not necessarily live in a dystopic world that has fallen into chaos. Ex Machina for example is not about a rouge AI destroying the world, but rather the ethical issues with creating and discarding artificial life.

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This relates back to my research project as the reasoning behind this increase in positivity may be linked to the idea that people’s perceptions of the future have changed since the time of the cyberpunk era. I want to conduct further primary research into this discovering if people have become more accepting of technological advancement now that cyber-technology is so saturated in our everyday lives. I want to know if they have more positive perceptions of the future and what fears (if any) people have about our current/near future technologies.

I plan to do so with an online survey which I have already created here and am awaiting the results. I have also started some secondary research into this and found this interesting study into people’s biggest fears of 2015. Three of the top ten where cyber technology related which was very interesting.

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I plan to present the findings for my research in podcast style video, where I will discuss concepts, show what I have found and elaborate on my thoughts about the future of the cyberpunk genre.

 

References

Pearson, L 1999, Notes Towards A Post Cyberpunk Manifesto, Slashdot, viewed 4 April 2016, < https://news.slashdot.org/story/99/10/08/2123255/notes-toward-a-postcyberpunk-manifesto>.